New Mexico Secretary Jeff Witte, now in his seventh year, says one of the most important aspects of his job is direct contact with the men and women who produce the agricultural diversity of the state’s robust farm and ranch industry.
Southwest Farm Press caught up with Secretary Witte in March about his statewide listening sessions, a program now entering its third year.
“I actually owe the initial idea to the Dean of New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Rolando A. Flores. He had been talking to me for a number of years encouraging a program whereby we would hold meetings in locations across New Mexico to listen to producers about their issues and concerns. We eventually put our heads together and came up with the listening series idea and it has worked remarkably well,” says Witte, who adds that the sessions are geared more towards listening to producers rather than talking to them about the issues.
In 2017, the concept became a reality with three listening sessions scheduled in three regions of the state where large numbers of producers were located.
“The program has been a remarkable success and has provided me and Rolando some interesting viewpoints coming directly from those we are charged to represent. What I was afraid might be just another series of informational meetings where the same thing is repeated before various groups has turned out to be a real "nuts and bolts" series of sessions that have given us new insights and ideas to help us address producer issues through our policy and legislative efforts,” says Witte.
The first producer meeting was held Tuesday, Apr. 2, at Silver City. The second session in the series is scheduled for June 17 at Farmington, with the third scheduled for July 17 at the Eddy County Fairgrounds in Artesia.
"Over the last two years, we have found it rather remarkable that these sessions have become very popular among producers. We have had fairly large numbers in attendance and I would say they are growing,” he notes.
Trade relations and the retaliatory tariffs agriculture is facing in New Mexico and nationwide, seem to be a priority concern for growers, he says. "These tariffs, like so much legislation related to farming and ranching in recent years, seems to hurt agricultural producers the most."
While the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement is at the top of the list, Witte says he believes the new agreement will eventually be ratified by all three countries, in one form or another, and bring tariff relief to producers, not only in his state but for most U.S. producers. But he says lingering trade relations with Europe, the Middle East and Asia, remain a stumbling block.
Other areas of concern to New Mexico growers:
- marketing, especially developing new markets for New Mexico agricultural products
- farm bill safety net
- hemp production
“In New Mexico, we are all about value-added agriculture, and by listening to our producers in these sessions gives us new ideas and angles on how we can best serve those we represent,” says Witte.
Witte, who grew up on his family's cattle operation between Santa Fe and Las Vegas, N.M., is a graduate of NMSU with a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Business Management and a master’s degree in Agricultural Economics. He serves both as the director and secretary of the New Mexico Department of Agriculture (NMDA) and the sitting president of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA).
Witte served as assistant director of NMDA from 1994 to 2003 when he became the director for the Office of Agricultural Biosecurity for NMDA and NMSU. He also co-directed the Southwest Border Food Safety and Defense Center at NMSU, is an adjunct instructor with Louisiana State University; the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training; and the University of Tennessee, College of Veterinary Medicine.